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1 



TOWER SERIES *■■* NUMBER ONE 

A Wedge of Words 



THE I 



OF TEXAS 



Frederic will : A Wedge of Words 



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For DILYS LAING 

Poems in this collection have appeared in 

Accent, Pivot, Quagga, The University of Kansas City Review. 

Permission to reprint them here is gratefully acknowledged 

Copyright © 1962 by Frederic will 
All rights reserved 

Second Edition, 1963 



-Arts 



Jszt 



Library of Congress Catalog Card Number : 61-15828 

Published by the humanities research center 
THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS 
Distributed by the university of Texas press 

AUSTIN I 2, TEXAS 



Made in the United States of America 



Contents 


7 


: Naming World 


8 


: Calypso 


9 


: Hartford 


10 


: Iceland 


11 


: Letter Back 


12 


'• Digging U P Leon of Salamis 


13 


: curriculum vitae 


14 


: EX. IF. 


15 


: Millenium 


16 


: Thucydides : Two Fates 


18 


: Ztftf P/>fd? 


19 


At the Ear 


20 


Future 


21 


Venetian Fort : Southern Greece 


22 


Precaution 


23 


The Bard 


24 


: Answering 


25 


The Meteora 


26 


Surmise 


27 : 


The Kingdome of Denmarke 


28 : 


The Verge of Making 


29 


The Wrong Way 


30 : 


Austin Trilogy 



32 


: /Ifr0j\f the Street 


33 


Death on the Cellular Level 


33 


: Topples the Memory 


34 


: Anthemius of Tralles 


35 


Long Day 


36 


Steinhausen : the Baroque 


37 


: Ars Poetica 


38 


: Le Pare Mont sour is 


39 


: Philosophy 


40 


Sunset Crater 


41 


: Sunday Morning 


41 


Bassae : the Temple 


42 


: Invocative 


43 


: Hanging Leaf 


44 


: Theocritus 


45 


Boat Trains 


45 


: Shelter 


46 


Gypsies near Monemvasia 



Naming World 

Not every poem is born from 
Troy's destruction or Laura's smile. 
This one was not. 

Once in a while 
I think of my losses. 
They are my plot. 

How a bird flew 
Away, or a friend came, 
While I was gone. 

How when I write 

A poem 

I have to be alone. 

How a man's eyes are shaped 
So that he only sees 
Ninety degrees. 

How I am forced to be 
Here in this chair 
Not over there. 

When I assemble such 
Proofs of a fallen state 
I must take pause. 

I ask at every door 
How a man goes about 
Winning back loss. 

I have an answer now. 
Into the naming world 
Of poetry 

Write all the turning world 
You failed to hear 
You failed to see. 



Calyp 



so 



Letters failing to leave that mark 

Of decision which every woman requires, 

I came to the city again, 

Presuming the strongest parting was best, 

And told her sister the plan to meet 

In the public garden at eight. 

A probe of sun that striped the delicious grass 
Expired at the tip of my shoe, a robin 
Hopped like a toy on exotic shrubs 
And called the elaborate day to order, 
And into it all she came 
Like morning itself. 

All was the same to the eye as before, 

Intently and puzzled her smile 

Put of! an allowable kiss. 

She sat on the narrow bench 

And waited to hear me repeat 

My lascivious slavery 

Or some impossible hope of my own. 

I fought with the need to please, 

And touched her wrist through a red-silk sleeve. 

'The wind has changed. Voices come 

In the afternoon from every point of the compass. 

Nothing is still inside, I move with my life.' 

She smiled, assuring her limpid eye 

That only my style had changed. I gathered 

A wedge of words: 

'Living assembles 
My strength, the staying is wrong at last. 
Oceans remain to cross, my thought is still. 
Your beauty will stay in the thought of your beauty 
Our love in the thought of our love.' 

She turned, 
Observing a wren in the grass, she turned 
Before I could turn my shapeless talk 



And even in that slight motion 
I saw the change of a world 
The loss of a world 
And no word left for the finding 



Hartford 

Where nothing's uninsured except the slow 
Still commotion of spring. That seems the least 
Of certainties. (Who called it from the ground, 
In parks, or gardens long more orderly? ) 

Where in the finest print calamities 
Are exorcised, where death, as any housewife 
Knows, has lost its sting, and pays at last. 
( Where policies are read before each meal. ) 

Where spring, an accident that's never covered, 
Creeps libidinous from house to house, 
And trickles, when the last martini's gone, 
Into the actuary's careful blood. 



Iceland 

Those absolute coasts of mind 

those coasts of dream 

swim through my morning now 

and seem 

more than before my own, 

nothing the world has shown. 

Suddenly one is clear, it climbs; 
straddles the morning air and breathes. 
Over it birds are turning 
wind wreathes 

Suddenly one is clear, and I 
mount to its very summit 
up through my eye 
up to a pausing point 

up to the seeing height 
absolute seeing rim 
over that edge where all 
seen is within 

in the containing sea 
in the extending ice 

in and within the still 
never forgotten 
never forsaken 
world of the will 



10 



Letter Back 

Troubled constancies destroy so many 
Sleeps. I write you now from past a sleep, 
From after all my reasons, from away 
Beside white paper where I sit at windows 
Gorged enormously with sun and spring. 
I write to you from past a sleep that flooded 
Me with choice upon this highbanked bed. 
Yes I feel drowned in restful gaiety 
And years alone to write beside this sun. 
I should expect to tire or hunger or 
To mail these letters, but the door is far, 
And I have long mislaid the key, and once 
I looked and saw an image of myself 
That walked in tireless guard below my room. 
I could call thinly on a pulse of air 
That you should follow here, and I descend 
A flight of stones, and hold you in the sun, 
But it is far, by hills, and you were tired, 
And I am waking, waking. 



11 



Digging up Leon of Salamis 
Murdered by Tyrants, 403 B.C. 

Whatever the rain, he feels. There 
Now to be dug, met by shovels. 
What would the men encounter? A stare, 
Open as death? Bone? Mud? 

I would expect to discover no 
Mercy. There would be eyes, wide; 
Bones gone soft from the dampness, 
Several, I suppose, on one side 

Broken. That would be all. All 
Debting at once, the long, still 
Cumulate instant of human fall. 
That would be all, all. 



12 



curriculum vitae 

the retired clown 
displayed around 
the age of forty 
disturbing traits 

for hours on end 
he'd wander aimless 
virtually lost 
on city streets 

one of the crowd 
(and right-side up) 
he'd dream his dreams, 
proclaim them aloud; 

he'd stand in lines; 
becoming most 
peculiar around 
circus time 

when spotted tights 
and elephant trunks, 
phantasmagoria, 
would madden his nights 

and trapezes would fly 
spangled across 
his pensioned mind's 
uproarious sky 



13 



E.L.W. 

Then this at last I knew 

as though the eye of the mind 

would break and run 

with vision down the world 

and stain 

the duller morning with its sun 

then this at last 
breaking the person wide 
opening what was silent 
wildening what was held 
inside 

this and no more 
this your seen 
silent love 
I mean 



14 



Millenium 

When there is little more to say 
blessings upon than bone 
when we are once again alone 

when we are water 
when we are stone 

worlds will turn 
time in their passing 
oceans will swallow 
truth will be known 

April will blossom 
May follow 

when we are water 
when we are stone 



13 



Thucydides : Two Fates 
I/Sphacteria 

Then whatever it was that they felt 
Scanning the brackish pools 
Cutting the thorny osiers for fuel 
Marking time in the towers 
Whatever it was, they felt 
Buried in waiting 

More than that none remembered 
Nothing before the defeat 
Childhood, innocence, knowledge 
Tables with cloths, beds, the street 
Passing before the house 
No one remembered 

Only what after all was left 
That they became in the end 
Senses simply reporting 
Night after day after night 
Water that flowed like the sky 
Birds passing emptily 
In and out of the hollow eye 
That they became in the end 



16 



II /Syracuse : Geology Lesson 

Nicias fossiled there 
Was absolutely the first 
One to test the air: 
Rose, rubbed his eyes, 
Climbed a few feet, cursed. 

No issue was left, 
No possible supplication, 
No relief, no cleft. 
Sheer-side quarries climbed 
Brutally up the still 
Walls of his mind. 

Now he is dead. 
Even that morning passed. 
Even those bones, that head, 
Even his terror became 
Limestone at last. 



17 



Zoo Piece 

These memorable participants 
Lined equally behind steel 
Meet our eyes this afternoon. 
We feel 

Jungles furious there 
Over the concrete moat, 
Matted leonine passions. 
They stare 

Quietly out of eyes 
Opened first in the Bronx, 
Twitch only to dislodge 
Flies, 

Peanut shells, and kids 
Leaning forward to see 
Murder flickering under 
The still lids 



18 



At the Ear 

I who suppose it speak : 
That robin opens walls 
Somehow the robin calling breaks 
Powerfully through the afternoon 
Somehow he awakes 

Mate after mate. 

Always within the ear they stirred 
Anxious to fly, though still 
Waiting to hear the world, 
Poised on the ear's sill. 

Suddenly all was one: 
I who suppose it am 
Where they decided to fuse, 
Where they decided to make 
Spring of their single news. 



19 



Future 

That it should come to writing before being, 

Our love, and to the will before seeing, 

This you may forgive. It argues at least 

Foresight. You must hear worse. The feast 

I shall set for you, knowledge, vision, 

Attentive hilarity, the provision 

I can make for delighting, in short; this 

I shall not give wholly. I would miss 

My choice too greatly in such a giving. And you must know; 

For you shall certainly be young, and certainly slow 

At such wisdom still — that I am 

Not to remain your own, or you my own. That I shall not plan 

To stay on that cliff, or this shore, 

Hearing breeze in the July orchard, or the roar 

Of storm on the desperate Atlantic. 

And further — for last you must know the sick 

Mood of your wooer — know that your mere 

Beauty will weaken me. I shall appear 

Strong, but you be stronger, joyful, but you 

Be more. And yet, for after all it is true 

That it has come to writing before being, 

Our love, and to the will before seeing, 

Count on my faith. Not all know 

With such certainty that it will be so. 



20 



Venetian Fort : Southern Greece 

A tree 
Climbed up the eye with birds 
Attached and sang. 
We stopped 

And heard 
The atoms fall 
Like rain 
Among the walls 
The walls 

Then went 
( That silent piece 
Was history enough 
in Greece) 



21 



Precaution 

Often the sunset's vermilion 
Spreading suddenly outward 
Separates through the air 
Curdles around the sun 

These years it would be well 
Rather than standing by the window 
Praising nature out of hand 
First to be sure. To tell 

Someone who knows, who sees 
Just the exact distinction: 
Just the color of the air; 
Just the direction of the breeze. 



22 



The Bard 

willing to suit their taste 
like the evening's brew 
of tea and reminiscence 
(his own too) 

the bard in evening clothes 
(no dupe) grazes 
his memories amiably 
over things repeatedly told: 

sunsets (orrises) seen; 
sensitive friends known 
(mainly by name) ; dream, 
reality; the finer tone. 

all that these women admire 
all he is willing to say 
on a summer evening 
for pay 



23 



Answering 

That moment you proposed for remembering, 

That unsteady day, volcanic and slumbering 

In my craterous skull; it will not cool 

Quickly. Though I have summoned habitual rule 

Of law for my days, and wear a mask 

And the expected gloves, it is not easy. You need not ask 

Whether I remember. Briefly, it is still that noon; 

In my feeling we are close to the sea. Soon 

The tide will come in. The village is behind. 

Two high gulls cross the sandy rind 

Of the land. Briefly, it is then still. Such detail proves, 

More than I need to prove, more than behooves 

Our still love, that I remember. It will be long, 

And by the mere sum of events, before that strong 

Moment elapses. May it go as it came, however; 

In an unproposed still instant, and forever. 



24 



The Mete or a 

The lithographs had brought us; long ago 

We knew, and coming looked at first for art. 

It showed. The needle rocks were bright and grew 

Like gaudy stems to monasteries at 

The tip. We climbed into the frame, and left 

Our bags. 

Then visiting till dinner time, 
Like pioneers we crossed the grounds of faith : 
The Virgin's belt, a saint — on wood, and three 
Decisive scenes of hell. The afternoon 
Was long. It held us, not in life or death, 
But still. And hung the sky with cotton clouds 
From which the angels peeked. 

We left at six, 
Emerging from that art, like portraits brought 
To life again. We watched the driver's back, 
And saw the valley climb the eye; we drank 
The wind. And thought, returning through our minds 
At last, that only stillness drew us there: 
A form, reposing on the careful air, 
And full, as heaven always was, of death. 



23 



Surmise 

I must suppose us to be born, I must think; 
Angels were ready for everything, death, 
Dying, and no less birth; every brink. 

I must gather the rest, the days between; 
Hold them precisely; losing their number; not 
Asking for an instant what they mean. 

Not for an instant about angels. All 
That has its time. After the first death. 
After the matters of fact. After the fall. 



26 



The Kingdome of Denmarke 

That lobster claw is Jutland; see 
It pinch the water. Norway's tail 
Escapes across the frame, while V- 
Shaped Sweden blocks the east. A whale 

Would love to run those straits and climb 
The pretty latitudes as rhyme 
Ascends a poem. And come to rest, 
Like any sonnet, on a crest 

Of form. 

No weight can not be lost 
In older maps; they have their place. 
Their world that fills the eye is crossed 
By joy, and occupies no space. 



27 



The Verge of Making 

It is twilight, October storm is rattling 
The panes, the arms of the naked maples 
Wave on the air, and dead dry leaves 
Swirl up to the houseroofs. Nothing intrepid 
Is still but you. Seek for the word 
Your whisper will thunder. 

The verge of making, the move out of the silence, 
Few who have gone so far. Only the balance 
Restrains, precarious evenness timed by the heart, 
The changeless poise of the acrobat, or the course 
Of the reckless swallow, safely precise. 
The verge of making, the limit of balance, 
Few who have crossed, few of the acrobats. 

Nothing will stand but love, or fall but despair. 

The wind itself is a voice, generous where 

It is heard. Someone has spoken your name, 

Repealing your deafness. Tonight there is nothing deaf, 

The October storm is beating the village with rain, 

The trees are bent with the flailing air 

And every whisper is loud or deafening 

And nothing will stand but love, or fall but despair. 

Someone has spoken your name, beware. 



28 



The Wrong Way 

I 

I lost the point of my pen — 
It fell in the ink: 
I was reminded of when 
The snake sold us fruit. 
All of the rage of the fall 
Assaults your mind's tent 
If you've a sonnet on call 
But no instrument. 

II 

When he reached Egypt at last 
Flaubert did it wrong: 
Suddenly scorning the past, 
He thought of his work. 
I have acquaintance with his 
Despicable fault; 
Too many castles need this 
Eccentric assault. 



29 



Austin Trilogy 

1/ Missouri Pacific Tracks 

Somewhere behind our homes 
Locked in endless embrace 
Rails tune to Saint Louis 
Sensitive steel bones 

Ever the lattice tight 
Twinges to feel a new 
Friction approaching, wheels 
Flowing across the night. 

Those are the nerves we need, 
Touched by the slightest. All 
Pulse to whatever violence 
Comes at whatever speed. 

11 /West of Town 

Once his immense hands 
Touched the still moon 
Crushed a young star 

Once his mountainous feet 
Tramped this echoing land 
Carving valleys with a heel 

What has brought him down? 
What reduced him to counties 
Nothing but friable lime? 

Homeless, bleaching hills 
Endless over the eye 
Silent over the mind? 

Indescribable crumblings 
Wore the ancient god to this 
Frailing him down to rubble 

30 



HI /Late August 

Yes you will win 
Cactus mounting the hills 

Something you have we have not 
Quite indispensable skills 
Roots able to suck 
Life from the stone county 
Needles to guard 

You seemed hard 
Even in the better days 

Now when the master species 
Breathing conditioned air 
Gathers by the television 
Drinking pop in their underwear 

Now you seem 

(Let me assemble the language) 

Harder than ever 

Closer than ever before 

To the world's tough 

Dry core 



31 



Across the Street 

Those berries on fire from fire: 

I shall repair 

Losses of passion here. 

Memling would have held the instant 
Sure in a cardinal's hat 
Taking it down in sight. 

I am less sure. 

What will not cool from the word, 
Ashed in the very instant? 
Lost, when heard? 



32 



Death on the Cellular Level 

Death on the cellular level comes 
Slowly at first and takes a part. 
Something about its movement hints 
Less of violence than of art, 
Careful revenge for something old. 
Less of extremity than still 
Motionless exercise of skill. 



Topples the Memory 

summer in Greece 

burns the mouth of the eyes 

topples the other burdens 

wavers 

dies 

always the going home remains 
some on their lazy ships 
some on planes 

some to the center of recall 

not that the thinking back is best 

just that the thinking back is all 



33 



Anthemius of Tralles: 
Architect of Santa Sophia 

certainly rounded the air 
cupping it under that gilded dome 
filling it with the madonna's stare. 

Sometimes my prayer goes up 

straight to that heavenly face, 

sometimes I seem to rub 

dreams with those cubed and ancient eyes, 

bathed in grace, 

hopes with that sunshone dome. 
Then it grows darker again 
evening is gathering, stone 
muffles to vaguer tones of gray 
then 

smothers me like a grave; 
quietly, deeply caving 
in on the strict nave. 



34 



Long Day 

You who found my kiss nasty 
and repeated there — in bed — 
all we had ever known, and said 
things half impossible, are free. 

Woundings at night are worst — see 
there you cut in. Dawn 
came with the river back 
waking the careless, dull lawn 

shaking the very ghosts of hell 
there at the pillowside, until 
nothing was what it was. Well 
somehow I roused and scooped 

coffee into the pot and washed; 
pulled my pajamas off and took 
shroudsful of clothing from the hook. 
Somehow I drove the car away. 

Now it is afternoon. Long 
hours of students leave, and I 
turn to the open window, watch 
Texas extend like tundra, high 

clouds in the silent air, and two 
figures whose binding hands 
fashion the classic knot that no 
power but loving understands. 



3^ 



Steinbausen : the Baroque 

The sun set fire to wheat this afternoon : 
It was so bright. From two to four we stayed 
Within; the artifice of faith was cool, 
Amassing gilded cupidons on rosy 
Skies, until our eyes expected only 
Heaven. Several photographed that scene 
Until the light declined — November piling 
Clouds across the sun. We waited still 
For some epiphany, as though a mass, 
Forever efficacious, now should draw 
The angels down, or swell upon the creamy 
Organ pipes. 

But only time would tell 
Those stories twice; the sun capsized and drove 
Us down this windy road again, like birds 
Cut loose from painted air, to dream of pinker 
Clouds and Mary talking like a dove. 



36 



Ars Poetica 

Demarches of poem or dream 

demarches that seem 

to rest on weightless ground 

proceed 

and so the continents 
that boil with sea 
or crust with stone 
will never be 

only the roadless course 
made as is thought 
casting its countryside 
round it wrought 

endless and still to feel, 
present like what is not 
only imaginary 
but real 



37 



Le Pare Montsouris 

'My mouse' (or is that wrong? ) 
Welcomes a flight of birds 
Three children (with maid) 
Me (perceiving) along 

Only to look around. 
I sit, and watch the pond. 
Far in the city horns 
Moan, taxicabs hound 

Walkers, the lights change. 
Mice — not mine this time — 
Scamper down metro alleys 
To the correct exchange. 



38 



Philosophy 

Some ideal temptation, that. 
Colloquies lapping the edge of the mind. 
Seeming perhaps nearly to touch 
Nearly to trace the one design. 

That was the way we talked. 
Being another was truly hard. 
Being the truth by half, the still 
Strenuous fragment, the path, the guard. 

Never what is, we seemed to say, 
Weaving comparable hope, 
Weaving particular grammars, 
Shaking existence until it broke. 



39 



Sunset Crater 

even today ( I fell there long ago ) 

alarms. Seeming to drop forever 

just under my feet, just below 

sidewalk level. I lurch (clever 

enough to continue talking) and feel 

the wind rise, the lava slide, 

the path crazy. Nothing can steel 

me then but habit, nothing but tried 

familiar chatter. I brace. Yet still — 

let memory be the least extreme 

that day— the final fall, the hill 

thrown suddenly forward, will pound, scream, 

deafen, outflow until you hear 

my downtumbling in your ear. 



40 



Sunday Morning 

Between weeks it is time to rest, 
Turning the papers slowly, half-dressed, 
With sunlight over the shoulder. 

( Wholly between. 
At once ceasing and starting. 
At once coming and departing. 
Held.) 

Letting the other continents be. 
(Though enjoying their names. ) Free 



Bassae : the Temple 

Remembering perhaps some wrong 
To nature, winds have worn these stones : 
Their friable details belong 
To earth again. 

Collapsing bones 

Of beauty, hold your pride. You taught 
The shapeless wind your form a while; 
And even in your dying, fought 
The hungry elements with style. 



41 



Invocative 

For the benediction, or for the cause 
for all the delicate operations, 
for the laws . . . 

under these auspices I stir 
make the preparatory sounds 
choose, phrase, prefer 

while some are flying to thunder 

listening mainly to ravens 

while some are taken with wonder 

chiefly by cannons and sounds of assembled nations, 

give me an honest ear 

quiet yourselves to hear 

also from crickets 

crickets that hollow out 

pockets of being on summer evenings 

carefully scout 

routes of awareness 

silence 

that hollow their order out 
leaving us only there 
caught at their center's center 
simple as air 



42 



Hanging Leaf 

Undone 

In time, the wrinkled leaf 

Is tossed 

Beneath the sun. 

(The leaf 

Is still, concentric round 

Its poise — 

So perilous, so brief. ) 

The leaf 

Surrounded with its fall 

Descends 

Descends our grief. 



43 



Theocritus 

Something like planetary death 
spreads on the afternoon, then bursts 
almost the classroom windows 
rattles the tower: breath, 
hope, and the class are held. 

Booms of such violence. We read 
there in the Greek your prayer 
early this afternoon. The air 
hung like a cloth and said 
nothing about the dead. 

There in an easy style you made 
visions of spider work, and shields 
rusting away in webs, and laid 
plans for a king's new peace 
plans for a swordless Greece. 

Plans; nothing that lasted. We 
turn from the bitter class to see 
squadrons of webless steel 
mounting the single air 
Texas and Siracusa share. 



44 



Boat Trains 

manoeuvring old tales old tunes 
now we begin again 
dancing the wirebright rails 
humming the steelstill tunes 

back to the offices and desks 
more than enough in dreamed 
castles and placid lands 
more than enough — it seemed 

sometimes we learned too much 
sometimes we spent our eyes 
spent them on simple oldness 
simple exercise 



Shelter 

Every night these stars 
Puncture the blue air 
Burn like needles 
Into our eyes, stare. 

Often we run inside — 
Heaven is fiercely clear — 
Take refuge in reading, 
Television, beer. 

These are things to do 
Places to remain 
Ways we contrive to avoid 
Seeing the world plain. 



45 



Gypsies near Monemvasia 

Well we were coming down and saw: 
there where the beach was curved like a nail 
breathing with midnoon waves and still 
true to a peace we never knew 

farther behind the mountains stood 
thoughts in our afternoon like walls 
crushing us down to what we saw 
curtaining of! a world that could 
even in several hours, fall 

well we were coming down and there 
spread on the sloping rockland's fringe 
there the maligned and errant beings 
scattered their thatch-huts everywhere 

pitched their thatches and lived their way 
excellent, separate and true, 
closed by the stippling bay and still 
open to any truth we knew 

Well we were coming down that day 
not that another man had said 
go to that certain spot and watch. 
no we were coming down to give 
all that we were an instant there 
over to peace of sight, of bone, 
over to metamorphic air 

over. And then to bring it back 
not in the form of truth or wisdom 
but in the simpler form of lack 



46 



/ 500 copies printed by 

H The Printing Division of The University of Texas 
Design by Kim Taylor 



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